What if the defensive ends on the Dallas Cowboys are actually...wait for it...good? Sure, this team's pass rush as a whole isn't dominant, with defensive end being a position Cowboys Nation expects to see addressed in the offseason, but things could have been a lot worse this season when it comes to Rod Marinelli's defense getting after the quarterback.
For now, the pass rushers on this team are going to be called upon to continue to get the job done in the playoffs, and its time to study this position further with some Dallas Cowboys Playoff Primer.
Benson Mayowa may very well have to be the Cowboys' best defensive end this postseason. Relatively well rested, Mayowa saw Randy Gregory get some of his snaps over the last two weeks of the regular season, only to be suspended again for the playoffs and 2017.
Rushing solely from the right defensive end position, Mayowa - when he wants to - shows the skill that Dallas saw in him this offseason to sign the young rusher to a three-year deal. If he's not attacking left tackles right down the middle and getting held in check at the line of scrimmage, Mayowa is bending around the corner with violent hands and pressuring the quarterback.
Undoubtedly the best true RDE this team has for the playoffs, Mayowa is going to need to prove his worth by giving maximum effort over potentially the next three weeks.
David Irving has burst onto the scene with the Cowboys this season, jump starting his career under defensive-line guru Rod Marinelli after signing with Dallas in 2015. With three sacks in his last three games, Irving has found ways to get to the quarterback more consistently both as a defensive end and interior tackle.
Primarily playing as an end during his recent hot streak, David Irving has found a way to set up unsuspecting right tackles with some polished counter moves and surprising bend to go with his freakish length and athleticism.
In the Cowboys' previous meeting with the Green Bay Packers, Irving was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week by forcing three fumbles and sacking Aaron Rodgers once despite playing just 19 snaps.
Wherever he lines up this week and throughout the playoffs, opposing offenses are going to have to be aware of #95 in white, which is something we didn't necessarily expect to say about many Dallas defenders this season.
Tyrone Crawford is somewhat of a man without a position on the Cowboys defensive line right now, despite being their highest paid player. Once thought to be in store for a big season at the 3T DT position, Crawford has been forced to play at left defensive end due to injuries and lack of depth.
It hasn't been all bad for Crawford as an edge rusher though, as he will flash at times as a pass rusher, while always playing as a formidable strong side run defender.
Getting around the edge with Tyrone Crawford playing LDE will be a tall task for the Packers running game, especially with the Cowboys' cast of linebackers rallying to the ball around him. If Crawford can also find a spark over the next few weeks as a pass rusher, the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line will turn into one of the strongest remaining in the playoffs.
Who would have thought?
Jack Crawford is the "Mr. Do It All" of the Cowboys' defensive front, back in 2016 on a one-year deal to add depth as a situational rusher at multiple positions.
While Crawford's impact in the playoffs will realistically be pretty marginal, he is a legitimate and athletic piece to this defense - fitting the mold seen throughout this "orphan" lineup.
Gone are the days of non-scheme fits like Nick Hayden eating up snaps defensively for the Cowboys, because they have a player like Jack Crawford to give them maximum effort as a speed rushing end and penetrating defensive tackle when called upon.
If Dallas isn't going to blitz Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, opting instead to play coverage, the next best thing they may be able to do is unleash Jack Crawford on some obvious passing downs.
I saved DeMarcus Lawrence for last in this Playoff Primer, and it's because we need to have a talk about the Cowboys' young defensive end. Just you and I.
When things looked darkest for this defensive line coming into the season, we all took just a bit of solace in the fact that this "emerging star" in Lawrence was going to be on the field.- at least after his four game suspension, handed down as a result of his back injury and the drugs he used to deal with it.
While I joined in on my fair share of hype with Cowboys Nation for Lawrence's 2016 campaign, a part of me always thought that his season would turn out just like this.
Lingering back injuries have kept Lawrence out of the last four games, and the six he's played have resulted in just one sack. DeMarcus Lawrence was asked to be the guy this season for the Cowboys pass rush, but has always profiled more like a second rusher.
The hope is that Dallas, who will gladly welcome a "second rusher" in DeMarcus Lawrence to join the rotation they'll undoubtedly be relying on over the coming weeks, gets something positive out of Lawrence to refocus with their 2014 draft pick for 2017.
The explosive play has not been there for Lawrence this season like it was in 2015 though, and I highly doubt it will return in time for him to take over games when they matter the most.
To conclude Playoff Primer here at Inside The Star, I'll be looking at the secondary with the safeties and corner backs prior to Sunday's Divisional Round game at AT&T Stadium.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain
When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.
Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.
La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.
For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.
That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.
But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.
If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.
But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.
If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.
Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.
They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.
While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.
Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.
If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.
How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension
Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.
Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.
Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.
You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.
What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.
Or does it?
Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.
Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.
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